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Southern Authors Expo at the Huntsville/Madison County Public Library

It you are in the Huntsville, AL area on Saturday, September 10th drop by the Southern Authors Expo at the Huntsville/Madison County Public Library.

I’ll be speaking at 2 p.m.: “Storytelling: A Uniquely Human Endeavor”

 

SAE

Local Authors Shine at Southern Authors Expo

Submitted by lmcphail on August 1, 2016

Come to the Downtown Huntsville Library on Saturday, Sept. 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the Southern Authors Expo. The library will be filled to the gills that day with local and regional authors ready to share their works with you. Huntsville is already home to a few notable authors…maybe you’ll meet the next Homer Hickam or Ilsa Bick!

The Southern Authors Expo offers the opportunity to connect authors and readers and for aspiring authors to meet others like themselves. The Expo also includes a writers room where writers can receive critiques and help with their first chapters, a readers room where authors will read from their texts in fifteen minute increments, and speakers on the hour every hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Aspiring writers are encouraged to bring in ten pages and receive notes and critiques from editors.

Hot Box and Sugar Belle Bakery food trucks will be available for lunch in the parking lot from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Southern Authors Expo is free to attend and open to the public. Authors will have copies of their books for purchase. Support our homegrown talent at the Expo!

Speakers

Auditorium:

10 a.m.         Ann B. Ross
11 a.m.         Les Johnson
12 p.m.         Michael Guillebeau
1 p.m.           Christy Jordan
2 p.m.           D. P. Lyle
3 p.m.           Melanie Dickerson

2nd Floor Events Room:

10 a.m.         Alex White
11 a.m.         Robert Bailey
12 p.m.         Pamela Hearon
1 p.m.           Sarah Henson
2 p.m.           Ann-Marie Martin
3 p.m.           Ramona Hyman

Readers Nook

10:00: Cathy Knowles
10:20: Toya Poplar
10:40: Amanda Orneck
11:00: Susan Spalding
11:20: Sasha Reynold-Neu
11:40: Daco Auffenorde
12:00: Margaret Vann
12:20: Mack Vann
12:40: Bert Carson
13:00: Joel Cobbs
13:20: Jamie Marchant
13:40: Cathryn Buse
14:00: Christina Carson
14:20: Frank Chase Jr
14:40: Ethan Fossett
15:00: Lana Austin
15:20: Hilda Lee
15:40: Debbie Esslinger

Registered Authors

Ashford, Joyce Ann
Auffenorde, Daco
Austin, Lana
Bailey, Robert
Baldwin, Mary
Barnes and Noble
Blessyn, Yura
Buse, Cathryn
Callison, Maria
Carnegie Writers
Carson, Christina & Bert
Cavanaugh, Mary Pulles
Chase, Frank Jr.
Chess, Kristina
Cobbs, Joel
Cole, Annie
Davis, Charles
Dickerson, Melanie
Distler, Dixie
Duncan, Victoria
Esslinger, Deborah
Fossett, Ethan
Gardner, Bonnie
Garrett, Shirley
Gilbert, Virginia
Goldstein, Deborah
Guillebeau, Micheal
Hearon, Pamela
Hensley, Ray
Henson, Sarah
Higginbotham, K.M.
Hilton, Eloisa
Hilton, Eloisa
Hyman, Ramona
Jacks, Lauralee
Jeter, John Sims
Johnson, Arloo
Johnson, Les
Jordan, Christy
Kerr, Kimberly
Kingsley, Stacy
Knowles, Catherine
Larson, Susan
Lee, Hilda
Lewis, Marlena
Ligon, Philip
Lyle, D.P.
Lynch, Lear
Lynne, Pepper
Mann, Angela
Marchant, Jamie
Martin, Ann-Marie
McPhail, Susan
Moon, Virgil C
Orneck, Amanda
Peel, Jennifer
Pociask, Anna
Poplar, Toya
Reynolds-Neu, Sasha
Rotstein, Robert
Satterwhite, Rob
Simpson, Micheal
Soden, Nina
Spalding, Susan
Sparkman, Pamela
Suddeth, Vickie
Thaler, Lynn
Trigg, Patsy
Vann, Mack
Vann, Margaret
Vaughn, Otha H Jr.
Vowell, Judd
White, Alex
Wills, Glenn
Zorbino, Shannon

Library Website: https://hmcpl.org/sae

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Guest Blogger: Bruce DeSilva: How I Made the Transition From Journalist to Crime Novelist

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A lot of people think that daily journalism must be a great training ground for novelists. I tell them that, for the most part, it is not.

As someone who worked as a news reporter and editor for forty years before writing crime novels, I was never comfortable with the bad writing habits and journalistic traditions that make most news writing unnecessarily turgid and tedious. In fact, I spent my career at The Providence Journal, The Hartford Courant and The Associated Press rebelling against those traditions and the editors who enforce them.

I wanted to write about real flesh-and-blood characters, but most news stories are populated by stick figures identified by little more than name, age and job title. I wanted to set my stories in real places, but most news stories use street addresses in lieu of a sense of place. I wanted to write yarns with beginnings, middles and ends, but most news stories are “articles” that insert information in order of its importance and then dribble pitifully to an end.

But the biggest fault I find with most news reports is that they are written in “journalese,” a standard journalistic voice that is stiffly formal, humorless, devoid of personality, and filled with bizarre sentence structures found nowhere else in English.

The best way to understand journalism’s voice problem is to take a fine piece of writing that we are all familiar with and imagine what it would look like if a journalist had written it.

Consider the first sentence of the King James version of the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth.”

Nice sentence. It’s simple, clear, and tells a big story in very few words.  But if the typical journalist had written it, it would have come out something like this:

“In a series of surprise moves intended to bring all of creation into existence out of what leading scientists call the ‘singularity,’ before  energy, matter or even time existed, God yesterday said ‘Let there be light,’ according to reliable sources close to the project.”

If a journalist had written the Bible, I doubt anyone would have read it.

Voice, after all, is critical to the written word. It’s the reason we have favorite writers. It’s not what a writer has to say but how he or she says it that brings readers back story after story or book after book. It works the same way in books as it does in life. Suppose you are at a party where someone is telling a story. It’s not the story that makes people crowd around to listen. It’s the storyteller. If someone else were talking, nobody would pay attention.

The best writers know that readers don’t read with their eyes. They really read with their ears. They hear the writer talking to them from the page, and what that voice sounds like is critical. The late great Robert B. Parker once told me that the main reason readers loved his Spenser and Jesse Stone novels is the same reason they love certain songs. They like the way they sound.

One of the reasons some fine journalists leave the profession to become novelists is that they want to be free to write well; and some, such as Michael Connelly and Ace Atkins, succeed spectacularly. But many former journalists who aspire to write novels tell me that they struggle because they find the transition from “journalese” to good writing difficult.

Me? I can’t begin to write a novel until I fashion a paragraph that gets the voice just right. Everything flows from that.

When I began The Dread Line, the new novel in my Edgar Award-winning series featuring a former investigative reporter in Providence, R.I., the paragraph that did the trick was this:

“He was a serial killer, but I didn’t hold that against him. It was just his nature. The way he killed irked me some. His victims were all missing their heads. But what I couldn’t abide was his habit of using my porch as a dump site.”

The killer turns out to be a feral tomcat that was leaving its daily kills on Mulligan’s porch, but that paragraph had the voice and the hard-boiled mood, that I was seeking. With that, I was off and running.

As a journalist, I was one of the lucky ones. Unlike many reporters burdened with editors who rigidly enforce harmful journalism traditions, I was blessed with a number of bosses who encouraged me to be a storyteller—and even to teach my colleagues how to do it.

And unlike most journalists, I spent much of my career writing and editing local, national, and international investigative stories, developing skills that I could pass on to the hero of my hard-boiled crime novels.

During my four decades in the news business, I also came to know hundreds of cops and FBI agents, lawyers and judges, mobsters and corrupt politicians, con artists and drug dealers, hitmen and gangbangers, prostitutes and snitches—experiences I draw on to create characters and plots.

But the main lesson I carried with me when I retired from The Associated Press seven years ago to write crime novels was this:  Writing is a job. You do it every say, whether you feel like it or not. You do not wait for inspiration. You do not dither hoping that your muse will turn up. You put your butt in your desk chair every day and write.

Bruce DeSilva grew up in a parochial Massachusetts mill town where metaphors and alliteration were always in short supply. Nevertheless, his crime fiction has won the Edgar and Macavity Awards; been listed as a finalist for the Shamus, Anthony, and Barry Awards; and been published in ten foreign languages. His short stories have appeared in Akashic Press’s noir anthologies, and his book reviews for The Associated Press appear in hundreds of publications. Previously, he was a journalist for 40 years, writing and editing stories that won nearly every journalism prize including the Pulitzer. His fifth novel, The Dread Line, has just been published in hardcover and e-book editions by Forge and can be ordered here: https://www.amazon.com/Dread-Line-Mulligan-Novel-Liam/dp/0765374331/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471633059&sr=1-1&keywords=bruce+desilva

 

dread line

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Book Passage Mystery Writing Conference, DEEP SIX Launch Party, and a Special Plotting Class

Join me at Book Passage Bookstore in Corte Madera, CA next week for these fun events.

First up on Wednesday evening 7-27 is the NorCal Launch Party for DEEP SIX. Meet my wonderful agent Kimberley Cameron, all the great folks at Book Passage, and grab a signed copy of DEEP SIX, the first in my Jake Longly comedic thriller series, and the updated 2nd Edition of FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES. We will have wine and cupcakes and some laughs.

Then on Thursday afternoon I’ll be presenting a special pre-conference class on Plotting The Perfect Murder. Bring all you great ideas and we will kill off a few folks. Fictionally, of course.

That evening the always excellent Book Passage Mystery Writing Conference begins. Come and improve your craft with a host of excellent instructors, including David Corbett, Cara Black, Isabel Allende, Rhys Bowen, Tony Broadbent, Laurie R. King, Kelly Stanley, Jacqueline Winspear, Tim Maleeny, and me as well as others.

Look forward to seeing you there. Here are the details:

DEEP SIX Launch Party
Wednesday, July 27, 2016, 7 p.m. PDT
Book Passage Bookstore
51 Tamal Vista Blvd
Corte Madera, CA
415-927-0960
http://www.bookpassage.com/event/dp-lyle-deep-six

Plotting the Perfect Murder
Book Passage Pre-Conference Class
Thursday, July 28, 2016, 1:00—3:00 PM PDT
http://www.bookpassage.com/event/pre-conference-class-dp-lyle-plotting-perfect-murder-corte-madera

Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference
July 28-31, 2016
http://www.bookpassage.com/mystery-writers-conference

 

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Posted by on July 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Even Identical Twins Have Different DNA

For years the dogma was that identical twins possessed DNA profiles that were not distinguishable from one another. But things are changing.

Fraternal (dizygotic) twins come from two eggs and two sperm and are as different as if born years apart. They are twins solely because they shared the mother’s womb at the same time. But, identical twins (monozygotic) come from a single egg and sperm. They are formed when the fertilized egg undergoes its first division and the two new daughter cells move apart, each then proceeding to form a separate individual. Since they came from the same fertilized egg, the share the same DNA. In fact, the two would be indistinguishable by standard PCR-STR DNA Profiling.

 

Twins

 

But, in reality, even identical twins have distinct DNA. We just weren’t able to see the differences. Before now.

As each twin embryo grows and develops in utero, and the cells continue to multiply, the replication (copying) of each twin’s DNA isn’t perfect. Minor errors or variations begin to appear so that by birth each Twin’s DNA is slightly different from its sibling. And as life goes on, each twin is subjected to different environmental stresses, which is turn alters each one’s DNA replication.

As opposed to STR, which looks at repeating short sequences of bases within the DNA strand, a newer DNA technique, known as Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP), gives the examiner a complete DNA sequence of the strand being analyzed. That is the exact sequence of bases in each strand is determined and this can reveal the differences in the DNA of identical twins. Another newer technique known as High Resolution Melt Curve Analysis (HRMA) might offer still another method to make this distinction.

So even identical twins are not so identical.

Want to know more about DNA profiling? Check out the updated 2nd Edition of FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES.

 

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Posted by on May 2, 2016 in DNA, Uncategorized

 

The Cyber Exchange Principle

Dr. Edmond Locard

Dr. Edmond Locard

 

The cornerstone of forensic science is known as the Locard Exchange Principle. Edmond Locard (1877-1966) studied and developed his investigative skills under the great forensic pioneer Alexandre Lacassagne and later headed the forensic laboratory in Lyon, France. His observations led him to conclude that criminals always left traces of themselves at crime scenes. And took evidence away when they departed. This became the foundation of his exchange principle.

 

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FROM FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES, 2nd EDITION:

The Cornerstone of Forensic Science: Locard’s Exchange Principle

Every contact you make with another person, place, or object results in an exchange of physical materials. If you own a pet, this material exchange is well known to you. Look at your clothes and you’re likely to see cat or dog hair clinging to the fabric—a pain in the behind if you want to keep your clothes looking sharp, but an incredible boon for forensic science. You may also find that you transfer these hairs to your car, your office, and any other place you frequent.

Known as the Locard Exchange Principle, after Dr. Edmond Locard, the French police officer who first noticed it, the exchange of materials is the basis of modern forensic investigation. Using this principle, forensic scientists can determine where a suspect has been by analyzing trace evidence (any small piece of evidence), such as fibers on clothing, hair in a car, or gunk on the soles of shoes.

Looking at Locard’s principle in action:

As an example, say that you have two children and a cat. You run out to take care of some errands that include stopping at a furniture store, the laundry, and the house of a friend who has one child and a dog. From a forensic science standpoint, this sequence of events can provide a gold mine of information.

You leave behind a little bit of yourself at each stop, including

* Hair from yourself, your children, and your cat

* Fibers from your clothing and the carpets and furniture in your home and

car

* Fingerprints and shoe prints

* Dirt and plant matter from your shoes

* Biological materials, if you accidentally cut yourself and leave a drop of

blood on the floor or sneeze into a tissue and then drop it in a trash can

But that’s not all. You also pick up similar materials everywhere you go:

* Fibers from each sofa or chair you sat on at the furniture store ride away

on your clothes, as do hair and fibers left behind by customers who sat

there before you.

* Fibers of all types flow through the air and ventilation system and settle on

each customer at the laundry.

* Hair from your friend, her child, and her dog latch on to you as do fibers

from your friend’s carpet and furniture.

* Fibers, hairs, dirt, dust, plant material, and gravel are collected by your

shoes and pants everywhere you set foot.

In short, by merely running errands, you become a walking trace evidence

factory.

Today, many crimes have at least some cyber component—cell phones, computers, e mails. text messages, etc. Does the cyber world also have such a cyber exchange principle? Yes it does and it’s actually quite extensive.

Forensic Magazine article: http://www.forensicmag.com/articles/2011/12/digital-forensics-cyber-exchange-principle#.UtFmzHn4VTE

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Guest Blogger: Megan Inslee: My Love-Hate Relationship with Forensic DNA

dna_rgb

 

What is the most important point to keep in mind when working with forensic DNA evidence?  There are probably a lot of answers to that question, depending on your experience and perspective.  I’ll let you in on my opinion for now, as a former DNA forensic scientist. One of the imperatives of working forensic DNA cases in this modern age is this: accepting that there are cases (many, in fact) that DNA can’t resolve.

Almost every time I testify, I’m asked “why might you not find DNA?” This is a good question, one which I usually answer with a fairly long list of possibilities, but it all boils down to three main points. 1. DNA may not have been deposited in the first place. Does this mean that the incident didn’t happen as reported by the victim or witnesses? Not necessarily – more on that a bit later.   2. Maybe too little DNA was deposited for the lab to test and identify. But can’t you guys detect even a few cells? More on that, later, too.  Or, 3. Perhaps DNA was deposited at an adequate level, but much of it was washed away or degraded over time. I saw a special on cold cases solved by DNA decades later – I don’t believe there’s anything you can’t do. Well, keep reading.

1. DNA may not have been deposited in the first place.

We’ve become so accustomed to DNA evidence being presented in criminal justice cases that we seem to need to take a collective step back to reflect on a case in which it just isn’t there.  It really depends on the scenario and the knowns of the case what this lack of DNA on an evidence item could mean.

The murderer doesn’t always cut herself on the knife and leave drops of her blood at the scene. The burglar may have kept his gloves on throughout the entire crime, never touching anything with a bare hand.  A child molester doesn’t always leave semen evidence for us to test.

And, of course, DNA may not be present on a tested evidence item simply because the scenario didn’t unfold the way investigators believed or the witnesses stated or the victim recalled.  Corroborating DNA evidence with reported scenarios is a tricky business, one which doesn’t always result in a resolution tied up with a big red bow.

2. Maybe too little DNA was deposited for the lab to test and identify.

Remember the days when crime labs couldn’t get DNA from anything smaller than a blood drop the size of a quarter?  And remember when, even when they started getting DNA from smaller samples, the odds of someone else having the same DNA profile was only one in several thousand?  Well, I don’t – that was before my time.

But I was there for the early years of the current DNA typing technology, Short Tandem Repeats (STRs). Those were the days in which we tested mainly blood, semen, and saliva.  We had a good idea of what we could and couldn’t get results from and we ended up with a lot of single-source DNA profiles.  These result in straight forward comparisons to reference samples which yield either an exclusion, if the profiles don’t match, or a match.  In the case of a match, we calculate and issue some crazy-big statistic that illustrates to the reader (the investigator or attorney or juror) just how significant this match is (spoiler alert: the number is often in the quadrillions – matches are pretty darn significant).  And as great as this is and was, the criminal justice system wanted (and in many cases, needed) more.

Science over time, I’ve found, rarely disappoints.  The techniques and products that result from years of experimentation, trial and error, grant funding and academic research end up being a culmination of the best approach among many.

Instead of changing the sites we used for forensic DNA typing, researchers found that we could extract and clean up the DNA a little better and attain higher sensitivity.  They modified the primers and added a few more.  They improved the reagents that we used to get our profiles and made them a little more robust. They made instruments that could automate sample processing so that we could do more samples in less time.  All of this has led to higher throughput and more sensitive results.

Currently, scientists are not just attempting to get DNA profiles from well-defined body fluid stains, as before, but also from areas of evidence items that have tested faintly positive for a body fluid. They are swabbing areas of items that someone in the case may have touched.  These types of samples have much, much fewer cells than, say, a fat drop of blood.  And, while significant to the case and incident at hand, these samples are likely to contain not only very few cells, but mixtures of more than one person’s DNA, further complicating the analysis.

3. Perhaps DNA was deposited at an adequate level, but much of it was washed away or degraded over time. 

It’s important to remember that DNA is a molecule, one with millions of parts.  Cells must be intact in order to properly preserve the DNA.  And hundreds of cells must be present in a sample in order to obtain a decent profile for comparison. Wiping or washing a surface can remove cells. Environmental factors such as heat, UV light, or bacteria can break cells open, exposing DNA and ultimately breaking it down.

Also, it’s useful to know that the laboratory process, itself, is lengthy, requiring many phases, none of which perfectly preserve all of the DNA in the sample from one step to the next.  If I detect 200 cells in a sample in the lab, it doesn’t mean that 200 cells were originally deposited on the evidence item at the time of the crime.  Even in the best evidence-preservation scenario, there is loss of genetic material on the crime-scene-through-laboratory-testing journey.

In the end, as much as I love forensic DNA (and I hope you do, too), it’s important to keep its limitations in perspective in every case. The presence of DNA evidence does not prove guilt. The absence of DNA evidence does not prove innocence. The current state of forensic DNA technology is, however, amazing! I think we can all relish in that without abandoning our role as critical thinkers.

MInslee

Megan Inslee spent 13 years as a DNA forensic scientist in Washington State.  She has her Bachelor’s in Biology as well as her Master’s in the Genetics track of Laboratory Medicine from the University of Washington. She currently resides on an island outside of Seattle with her husband and three small children, writing technical documents, preparing grant proposals, and providing consultation on a freelance basis.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2016 in DNA, Guest Blogger, Uncategorized

 

Dirty DNA

microfluidic

 

One truth in forensic DNA testing is that you must have a sample to test. That, of course, should be self-evident. But sometimes crime scene DNA isn’t readily available. There are no blood or semen stains on the floor or bed sheets or any location where they could be easily sampled. What’s the crime lab to do?

New methods are under development that allow for extracting useable DNA from some unusual places, even dirt. GEMBE (gradient elution moving boundary electrophoresis) grabs DNA hidden in the dirt by employing a molecular “tug-of-war.” Cool.

For more about DNA sampling and testing, grab a copy of my updated, 2nd Edition of FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES.

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